Rozi Hathaway is an illustrator and comics artist currently based in Northampton. Her minimalist approach to storytelling is matched by delicate line-work and use of watercolours, giving her comics a distinctive character that has earned her commendations from across the small press spectrum. This week, Tom sat down with Rozi to discuss the re-release of her Red Road project, her quiet approach to storytelling, and the nature of working in small press today.
T : So before we really begin, the big news is that your highly praised Red Road has been re- released! Can you tell us a little about it and I understand there’s some extras too this time round?
R: Certainly! It’s been a really exciting year, I sold out of my first limited run at the beginning of October. The second edition has a few subtle tweaks and bonus pages, which have some preliminary sketchbook work from when I started writing the story, and a page of alternate colours. I’ve always loved seeing other people’s sketchbook development work, so who knows, maybe people will like to see mine! The second edition had it’s first venture into public at Thought Bubble, so hopefully I can attract some new readers over and capture their imagination.
T : Something I’ve noticed about your work is that, in each case there seems to be a uniting sense of journey. You have a lot of movement through spaces, establishing shots and interactions. There’s also a nice echoed mapping of movement in the visual pacing of the panels and the unfolding nature of it also reflects the way the formation of the narrative itself works. These things surface, and it can be seen as a sign of connection with the medium. How much of this was a conscious decision, was it all planned?
R: I’m very interested in pacing with comics; how movement through a story can be subtly distorted and played with. It’s not really something that can be done in other mediums, so it’s been great to play with it as much as a story allows. It was particularly relevant in The Red Road, as it’s based around the poem which has a similar movement through time, or more lacking any specifics of time. Part of it was definitely a conscious decision, though I’ve learnt a lot more about pacing with every new comic I create.
The Rejsen submission I made for Dirty Rotten Comics was completely incidental, it was more just a reflection on how many different places you end up sitting, standing or waiting on a platform during years of travelling by train to Manchester. The movement in comics and playing with time is still something I’m getting to grips with doing. It’s a constant learning curve!
T: With something as atmosphere building as your work, there’s certainly some more pressure to master that pacing. Film has the advantage of audio layers, so pacing and visual “tone” setting in comics need to work that bit harder to reach the same “cinematics”. I can imagine your work as animated actually. Do you think about film or animation at all?
R: You know, it’s something I’ve considered before but the workload terrifies me! With comics, you can play on the fact that the reader reads between the lines, the space between the panels is a time-lapse and as long as everything is structured correctly, the reader makes sense of it all. The scary thing about animation is you don’t really have that luxury, everything has to be drawn repetitively – even more so than comics! I think it’s one of those areas that I’d need to start really small and work my way up to longer length pieces, but I’d definitely be willing to try it out some time. At the moment I still have so much I want to explore in comics and static image, my focus is there for the moment. But in the future, who knows! Maybe I’ll be an animation whiz at some point.
T: Your work is also beautifully visually led, there’s minimal text and the pictures feel like they’ve been given space to “breathe”. There’s clearly some passion behind that, can you tell us more?
R: Aw shucks, thanks! I used to read a fair few more mainstream comics in my younger years, and when I discovered the more independent works I noticed a lot, a lot less text, with the images speaking for themselves. Jeff Lemire’s The Complete Essex County was the first work I really felt moved by when you could just feel a moment, an emotion, without any text needing to be there. I can definitely appreciate text and dialogue, but there’s something magical about an image speaking purely for itself.
Over the summer I created a yet-to-be-published ten page comic which is completely silent; this was a new area for me and yet another learning opportunity. I can’t say I’d do it every time, but it was fun to do! When a reader can’t rely on text to inform the story there’s a lot more than can be suggested though image. Which is where I started recruiting my flatmate who despises art and never reads comics to go through it, and tell me what he saw the story as, which helped greatly. There’s a science to it, really, but empty space is equally as important as filling panels.
T: It must be useful to have those “outside” angles, small press can be quite good at that in general. There’s certainly a lot more dialogue with people at fairs and events, although things can also take time to build and certain creators will have more specific audiences. There’s also that balance of how much a creative should listen to feedback. How have you found the audience reaction to your work?
R: The small press community is a brilliantly friendly bunch, and as you say, the lovely folks who buy small press work are generally really nice and up for a conversation – which is a welcome relief when you’re sitting behind a table of your work all day. I’m lucky that I’ve not had a bad word said about my work (to my face, at least!) and people have been incredibly kind and complimentary. I don’t know about other people, but I think it’s natural to pick fault in your own work and never feel like anything is quite ‘done’, but having positive feedback really does make the long days and nights worthwhile. The only downsides I’ve had mentioned towards my work so far in the big wide world is regarding The Red Road and the concept of cultural appropriation, which is something I know to consider next time, and I’m glad it’s been brought to my attention.
T: That’s a peculiar aspect of small press I suppose, where each publication becomes a record of another stage in learning, experimentation and development. Is there any “end goal” or are you enjoying each progression?
R: Ultimately I’d like to work my way up to a full-length graphic novel, and ideally by that point I’d like to persuade some lovely publisher to take it on for me, so that I can start to gain some more exposure. Not that I would ever really want to give up small press shorter stories, I love the entire process (when I’m not in some weird writers block, that is) and I’d still happily tell short stories for the rest of my days. In terms of learning, I hope that I’ll always be constantly evolving as a storyteller and artist. With all m other work, there’s a deep sense of satisfaction when I can look back on some work I created a year or two ago and see a vast jump in precision and technique, and I don’t want that to ever end!